Out today exclusive to PlayStation 4 is Knack 2. It’s a fun platformer, a sort of cross between the Lego games and Uncharted via Ratchet and Clank, with goblins and robots to keep you punching. The original, one of the first titles to come out for the PS4, was pretty pedestrian. Does the second instalment follow in its predecessor’s plodding footsteps, or does Knack 2 punch above its weight? Meet me after the… wait for it… jump! to find out.
As platforming sequels go, Knack 2 is a big step up. The graphics are great, the colours pop (HDR supported), and it’s full of fun, straightforward puzzles to sort out between smashing beasties. There’s a simple storyline to keep you moving, fleshed out by cut-scenes featuring NPCs old and new. The game is set in the same world as the original. It’s a cross between sci-fi and fantasy scapes, where ancient high tech artifacts are strewn about the world, powering everything with barely understood capabilities. Doctor Vargas has harnessed the power of this tech, and created you, Knack, a fun little golem built of floating geometric bits. Like a Lego game, smashing tech artifacts breaks them into pieces, which then automatically assemble themselves, attaching onto you. The more artefacts you break, the bigger you become. A Mario-esque touch is added by allowing you to shrink down to your original size by pressing R1, and grow back up by hitting R1 again. In classic platform style, there’s plenty of occasions to jump between the two.
The plot is basic and effective. An army of evil goblins are bent on destruction. You have to stop them. You travel about with your young pal Lucas and his uncle Ryder, and a few others join in the fun as you progress. Eventually a plot involving high goblins and their destructive robots is uncovered. Knack and his pals rove the globe, battling to put an end to their evil plans.
Better than the wooden story are the game’s mechanics. There’s lots of combos to be unlocked via a decent skill tree system, gaining abilities as you go. Parts of useful gadgets can be found in hidden treasure chests scattered in odd places throughout the levels. Once you’ve found all the requisite parts for a given gadget, you can equip them for a new default ability or skill perk. You encounter elements that can give you knew abilities, clattering onto your frame like an extra layer of armour. So smashing an iron rock suddenly gives you iron cladding, and a heavy hammer blow of a punch. Or breaking a stalagmite of ice coats in you in frosty same, shredding your foes with cold claws or freezing them in place with your chill breath. Shed your skin by hitting R1 and shrinking down, and that skin will reassemble as a statue where you left it. Hitting the statue gives you the special skin right back again, but it’s also useful to leave that statue as a dead-weight to solve pressure sensitive puzzles. None of it’s earth-shattering stuff, but there’s enough to keep you amused, and the desire to pick up new moves is a hungry one once it kicks in.
I encountered the usual problems I find with most 3D platformers. The camera is agile but it can swing into weird places, making for surprise adjustments mid-play. Being used to shooters, I found my inability to move the camera at will super annoying. The right stick gives you dodge moves instead. I kept trying to fix the camera position and Knack would go zig-zagging across the field. And then there’s the joy of jumping in 3D perspective. A series of moving platforms on any kind of diagonal is always spatially trying. Fortunately, dying never sets you back more than a move or two.
Knack 2 won’t be changing the face of gaming. But it’s fun, and a straight-ahead romp through the game should run you 10-12 hours. The mechanics are a little too involved for very young kids, but other than that it’s an innocuous pogo puncher with enough bells and whistles to occupy just about anyone’s attention deficit disorder. Two joysticks up, but let me control my own damn camera!